I don’t want to write a story about Kim Davis. I’ve tweeted enough and gritted my teeth at her bigotry one too many times in the past couple of weeks. But here I am, mentioning her name because what I do want to write means that I have to acknowledge her as a small part of a big mess.
First, it must be noted that when we see stories like hers become big news there is historical precedent behind it. Sadly.
When the Republican Party, under the guidance of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, made appeals to the “Silent Majority,” they were seeking to use the prejudice of Southern whites to convince this historically Democratic stronghold to defect from the party that had seen a record 90 percent registration of black voters. Impressed by a 25-year-old Nixon aide and ethnologist, Kevin Phillips — who felt appealing to poor and lower-middle-class whites was the way for the party to win majorities from the 1960s until the 21st century — Republicans invited into their ranks, desperation and extremism.
With the wounds of the Civil War having never healed, fresh ones were opened by desegregation efforts and the Voting and Civil Rights Acts. Nixon was successful, though shortsighted, in convincing Southern whites that the Democratic Party had not simply abandoned their values but was poised to allow blacks equality, which appeared to mean making whites compete with blacks and sharing the American Dream to which they felt entitled. The Civil Rights movement was supremely unpopular at the time for the very same reasons that Black Lives Matter is unpopular and with the exact same group of people. The status quo in America depends upon oppression, particularly racial.
In the 1980s, Reagan’s Republicans took this idea, commonly known as the Southern Strategy, a step further and made appeals to large communities of evangelicals, specifically Southern Baptists. Nixon originally attempted to appeal to the white evangelical community but Reagan solidified the relationship. This embedded both racist whites and white Christians together in the party to such a degree that the political platforms became less and less issue based and unflinchingly value-centric. These appeals were often thinly veiled as legitimate economic or security concerns. Reagan’s party demonized people who sought government support, giving rise to the mythical “Welfare Queen” and making accusations that were blatant attempts at labeling blacks and immigrants as system-draining and lazy. It was again a successful use of classism and xenophobia, but shortsighted.
All of these chickens are now coming home to roost. Republicans counted on America staying poor, ignorant and white. By turning its back on education and cultural understanding, this party created its perfect shrinking voting base. They will certainly always win these people but there are increasingly few Americans who fit their demographic.
Certainly, this is a boon for the rest of us, right? When we see spectacles such as Kim Davis leaving jail, crying on a stage, flanked by a Huckabee and a huckster in front of an audience carrying medieval crosses on sticks, toting handwritten signs about the apocalypse and the fall of righteousness, all under the veil of right wing politics, Christian values and persecution, we see the frightening signs that the Republican Party has turned the corner from legitimacy into something envisioned by Orwell or Huxley.
I am definitely not singing dirges for the Republican brand, but when the heroes of the group are barely functional humans whose own lives don’t mirror the values they espouse, there is an issue. An issue they fully recognize, which is why we see the rise of their persecution fantasies.
Facing a shrinking base and running out of places to find new extremists to fall in line with their party messages, the easiest way to create a coalition is to cry foul. The government no longer works for them. Society is diseased, corrupt and overrun by heathens who are out to get them, so naturally — oh pity — the victimizer becomes the victimized.
It no longer matters if the cries are logical, factual or even tangible. It just matters that they start squealing until the only thing we as a nation can hear is the desperate wailing of a crew sinking with their ship. Naturally, we will reach out to them and find a way to stoke compassion for something that might be better left festering in its own filth. We’re all Americans for whatever it’s worth. We’re committed by birth and continued citizenship to preserve this union … this union.